- Editor’s note: Columnist Jan Nelson wrote this week’s The Mountain Gardener during a visit to her sister’s home in British Columbia, Canada.
I can see snow-covered Mount Rainier from my sister's deck. Last night, a rainbow bridged the Puget Sound, which flows around Fox Island, British Columbia.
The landscape here in the northwest is lush and green. Dogwoods, foxgloves and rhododendrons are still in full bloom. This temperate rainforest receives more rain than ours, but I see many of the same woodland plants that we grow in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I study each garden for new ideas.
One day, we headed for Victoria Island. As the clouds clear, the Victoria Clipper pulled into the harbor. The Empress Hotel's landscaping was picture perfect. Purple rhododendron, hosta and hellebore grew under the white Kousa dogwood trees. Late-afternoon sun backlit each leaf. Gingko trees and weeping birch framed the parliament building. The lights came on and outlined each gable and tower.
Still exploring the city later the same day, I looked at my watch. It was after 10 p.m. and still light. I forget we are closer to the land of the midnight sun at this latitude.
Visiting gardens is always the highlight of all my trips. Butchart Gardens, a national historic site of Canada, is a prime example of quarry restoration. Huge, 100-year-old poplar trees with gnarled trunks frame the famous sunken garden. Throughout the perfectly manicured lawns, perennial beds are home to oriental poppy, Japanese iris, Asian lily, hosta, black mondo grass, black-eyed Susan and lady's mantle.
This kind of perfection comes with a price. We saw several gardeners raking and deadheading while several others cleaned around the stone border with pastry brushes.
Victoria is famous for its hanging baskets. At Butchart Gardens, several hundred hang from arbor, trellis, pergola and shepherd's hook throughout. Mixed baskets of long-blooming annuals and perennials are started early in the greenhouse, then brought out in full bloom. One of my favorites featured peach-toned tuberous begonias, trailing sapphire lobelia, bacopa and coral calibrachoa. I was drawn to the dozens of hanging fuchsias and a rainbow of begonias planted with columbine, ferns and gold acorus grasses.
It must be fun to plant up the large pots that decorate the grounds. Even the wooden recycling receptacles have mixed planting on the top. Several noteworthy pots were planted with orange flowering maples paired with blue Mexican poppies and a variegated geranium. Another we liked contained a striking Electric Pink cordyline, coral petunia, calibrachoa and Bonfire begonia.
Fragrant flowers entice the senses and are planted everywhere. Strolling through the garden, vanilla-scented heliotrope greeted us. Spice-scented stock was planted nose high atop rock walls. Mrs. Butchart started this tradition, and the garden strives to have something fragrant blooming every season of the year.
The roses were just starting to open. Many of them originated in England and Australia. The Queen's Golden Jubilee was honored with decorative flags hung from the light posts. Flanked by tall gorgeous blue delphiniums, it was quite a sight.
If it was early for the roses, the peonies did not disappoint. I had never seen so many in one place. This climate is perfect for their culture. I had a hard time deciding which was my favorite. Double deep-burgundy flowers grew alongside soft peach and bright pink ones. A cool white one paired well with Bridal Veil spirea. A soft peach variety looked great with the darker orange oriental poppies.
For someone always on the lookout for planting ideas, the endless vignettes were inspiring. The many different garden rooms in this garden allowed for countless combinations. One that caught my eye paired a purple smoke bush with coral verbascum and the variegated Iris pallida. The blue flowers of the iris contrasted perfectly with the coral flowers and burgundy foliage of the other two plants.
I saw this garden in a new light on this visit. It was spectacular.
Next week, I'll recount my visit to Abkhazi Garden outside Victoria.
- Jan Nelson, a landscape designer and California certified nursery professional, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Email her at email@example.com, or visit www.jannelsonlandscapedesign.com to view past columns and pictures.